Monthly Archives: July 2013

Emergency Fishing and the Southern Seas

big blueI recently went out on a morning boat ride with my brother-in-law Ray and nephew James from the yacht club where they’re members in Simon’s Town, near Cape Town, South Africa. We just wanted to go out, cruise around, and then enjoy some fish and chips. Even though the weather looked clear when we set out, we chose to travel in tandem with another boat of friends, something that Ray says he always does to ensure safety. I also noticed that we had some survival fishing gear on the boat.

First of all, we carried a very basic saltwater line and lure setup, above right, which can be attached easily to the side of the boat and simply chucked in the water until fish get excited about the red lure and decide to bite.

We also carried two fishing rods, this one equipped with an attractive saltwater fishing lure:

saltwater lure

As a party of four, we departed the harbor:

simons town harbor

And when we returned, we saw that it was the perfect day for hanging out in Simon’s Town, which is where the very tiny South African Navy also harbors its two or three (non-functioning?) ships:

simons town

Despite enjoying our nice, prepared fish and chips lunch after our cruise, I couldn’t help but envy those in this fishing boat, who got the chance to reel in their own fresh catch:

fishing boat

An emergency fishing kit like the one we had on our boat isn’t quite practical for hiking or backcountry camping, so I wrote an article on the Survival Skills website about how you can make your own smaller, lighter version. Check it out here:

“Make an Emergency Survival Fishing Kit”

Skunk Spray: Beyond Basic Chemistry?

Basically, people know that skunks stink. And most people associate skunks with rabies…even though humans are much more likely to contract rabies from the bite of another rabid mammal, such as a bat, cat, or dog.

What would you do if you encountered a skunk while out on a casual day hike? Or what would you do if a skunk casually cruised into your campsite? If you don’t know much more about skunks beyond the above two common myths, read my article on the Survival Skills website:

“How to Survive a Skunk Encounter”

In the process of writing the article, I became more interested in what goes into a skunk’s stink. Like many other people, I originally thought that skunks spray urine, but I found out that they actually produce sulfurous chemicals containing thiols in anal scent glands. Thiols also give garlic and onions their strong odors. Go figure.

This PBS video, a portion of a longer segment on skunks, offers a brief, yet interesting explanation of the chemistry behind a skunk’s stink:

Southern Seas and the Southern Sun

I recently went to the beach in Struisbaai, South Africa in order to build a shadow stick solar compass for an article I wrote for the Survival Skills website. Struisbaai, or Struis Bay, is only seven kilometers from Cape Agulhas, the southernmost tip of Africa, where the Indian Ocean and the Atlantic Ocean meet. If you’re only seven kilometers from such a place, then you have to go, right? So we did.

2-Cape Agulhas

It was evening when we arrived on the beach at Cape Agulhas, and the light was spectacular. We walked out on the boardwalk until we found the above monument that shows the separation of the seas at this geographic location.

To the east is the Indian Ocean:

3-Cape Agulhas Indian Ocean

And to the west is the Atlantic Ocean:

4-Cape Agulhas Atlantic Ocean

Cape Agulhas is technically the southernmost tip of Africa, but Cape Point, a few hours (by car) west of Cape Agulhas, also claims to be the location where the seas split. Cape Point is perhaps the more tourist-friendly location, as it’s closer to Cape Town, but we had fun exploring the beach at Cape Agulhas…

5-Cape Agulhas

…and the town itself, which contains only a few little shops and pubs. Nonetheless, a beach is a good place to build a shadow tip solar compass because when the sun is out, it shows up clearly on the sand. There usually isn’t much debris to clear from a beach, and a shadow stick will stand up easily in wet sand.

Want to know more about how a shadow tip solar compass works?
Read my article on the Survival Skills website:
“Use a Shadow Stick to Determine Direction”

Photos © Traci J. Macnamara.

African Style: Homemade Bowls and Eating Utensils

Making bowls and eating utensils was once a necessity for survival, but now most of us buy the ready-made kind, fashioned from metal, ceramics, and glass. However, on a recent trip through Franschhoek, South Africa, I found a nice reminder of how beautiful natural, homemade things can be when I came across this table full of cooking and eating utensils made from a variety of natural materials:

1-decorative utensils

The bowls here are carved from horn:

2-horn bowls

And these spoons are made from a few different natural materials:


These spoons are made from shells with thick reeds attached for long handles:

4-oyster spoons

And these smaller decorative spoons are carved from bone, with the ones next to them carved from horn:

5-bone spoons

Beyond serving a basic function, many of the utensils here are also embellished with delicate beadwork. In a survival situation, I wouldn’t mind having a bowl for water, but I doubt that any of my carving or whittling efforts would turn out to be this beautiful!

Want to give it a try?
Read my article on the Survival Skills website:
“How to Make Improvised Cooking and Eating Utensils”

Photos © Traci J. Macnamara.

Attaching a Line to a Homemade Fishing Pole

Fishing is one of those artful, ancient food-hunting methods, and luckily making a fishing pole isn’t too difficult. But a lot of little tricks can help improve your fishing gear and fishing technique.

I wanted to share a brief video here, as it demonstrates a technique I mentioned in the article I wrote for the Survival Skills website “How to Make Your Own Fishing Pole.” In order to make your own fishing pole, you have to attach a fishing line to the pole. Sure, you could simply knot the line at the tip end of the pole, but this method might be problematic if you plan to catch a really big fish (and…who plans to catch a small, wimpy one, anyway?).

It might be better to tie the line towards the base of the pole and then wrap it around the pole and knot it again at the tip. Check out this video for a quick step-by-step tutorial:

And if you want to know more about the other steps involved in making a fishing pole, read the complete article on the Survival Skills website:
“How to Make Your Own Fishing Pole.”

Survival Stove: Required

In the spring of 2011, my friend Rich and I entered the Elk Mountain Grand Traverse, a backcountry ski race from Crested Butte to Aspen, Colorado. This race began at midnight in Crested Butte and covered 40 miles of gnarly, mountainous terrain–mostly at night and in the freezing cold.

elk 1

We packed our backpacks carefully before the race…

elk 2

…making sure that we had all of our required gear, which included our choice of a survival stove. We chose to carry the Esbit® Folding Pocket Stove because it’s a superlight stove, and it’s easy to use in an emergency. We hoped that we wouldn’t have a type of reason to use the stove, but we had to carry it, nonetheless.

elk 3

At the starting line, my backpack didn’t feel very heavy at all, even though I wouldn’t say that it was superlight, either. The race organizers published a list of required gear months in advance, and they checked our backpacks the day before the race to make sure that we had all of the items. Disqualification can result at the end of the race if participants fail to carry the required items for the full duration of the event.

elk 4

So, like all of the other participants at the starting line, our backpacks contained a stove, a sleeping pad, a shovel, an emergency blanket, and a bivouac sac, among other items. We wore avalanche transceivers and carried avalanche probes.

elk 5

Completing the Elk Mountain Grand Traverse was one of the most brutal, physically challenging things I’ve ever done. We skied through the night and into the next afternoon, but we were still smiles here at the finish line.

Want to know more about survival stoves?
Read my article on the Survival Skills website:
“Gear Overview: Survival Stoves”

Photos © Traci J. Macnamara.

Where There’s Smoke, There’s Fire

When you’re in the outdoors, you can choose to build several different types of fires based upon your needs. But campers often just pile up a bunch of sticks and branches teepee-style and set them ablaze without thinking about the purpose of the fire.


Bonfires need to be big, warm blazes to keep people warm, but this same type of fire would scorch a marshmallow in five seconds, flat. Successful cooking fires are more seasoned; they result from often smaller, more mature fires that have an abundance of reddish-orange coals. Imagine a cooking fire as one in which you could (theoretically) place items for cooking directly on the coals (of course…tin foil always helps, as a potato wrapped in tin foil turns out perfectly when cooked on coals).

smoke fire

Smoke fires generally communicate distress, such as the massive smoke fire above, which signaled the forest fire destruction of Waldo Canyon near Colorado Springs in the summer of 2012. Smoke fires are usually the product of green fuel such as live branches and leaves burning, in addition to dry fuel burning. Yes–dry fires create smoke as well, but if you are in a survival situation, and you need to attract the attention of rescuers, be purposeful about the type of fire you build. Choose to build a smoke fire–or even better, choose to build three smoke fires in a triangle configuration to communicate a universally understood sign of distress.

Want to know more about how to build a smoke fire?
Read my article on the Survival Skills website:
“How to Make a Smoke Signal Rescue Fire”

Photos © Traci J. Macnamara.

Even Better: An Adjustable Backcountry Spit

When I lived in Chamonix, France, I loved going to the market each weekend. I’d get all of the usual market-type things: fruit, veggies, fresh bread, local goat cheese. But I’d also wait in a long line to get something special: rotisserie chicken.

In a survival situation, I wouldn’t expect to eat one of my favorite roasted chicken meals, but it’s actually quite simple to construct a spit for backcountry camping. And it’s also possible to make a spit adjustable for different kinds of meats…rabbit vs. big game leg, for instance. Check out this video for some tips on making a spit adjustable:

And if you’d like to learn how to make a backcountry spit in the first place, read my article on the Survival Skills website:
“How to Make a Spit for Campfire Cooking”